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Slot-cash-for-schools plan may face legislative hurdle

February 19, 2001

Slot-cash-for-schools plan may face legislative hurdle



Will the third try be the charm in Jefferson County, W.Va., officials' quest for new cash for school construction? We'd like to think so, but the latest proposal's success or failure depends on two things beyond local officials' control.

First, some background. As proposed by state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, the bill would take 10 percent of the money the Charles Town Races is required to send to the state lottery each year and earmark it for new Jefferson County school construction instead. The cash would not come from the portion which already goes to local government, but from the share that goes to the state lottery fund.

Whether that goes down easily will depend on two things: How tight money is this session and what else do the lottery proceeds fund? And if one county can use gambling revenues for school construction, won't others want in on the action as well?

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On the revenue side, estimates haven't been good and those who depend on the lottery to fund their particular area may fight proposals to slice off even a small part of it.

On the other hand, the track operation, with 1,940 slot machines, cleared $79 million last year, up from $46 million the year before. About $1.6 million in profits went to local governments, including $1.2 million to Jefferson County.

Among other things, the cash has been used to make improvements to parks, buy furniture and equipment for the court system and a sheriff's department cruiser. In April of last year, Commissioner James Ruland said the lottery cash had allowed the county hold down taxes.

All of that leads to our second concern, which is how less-wealthy counties will view an attempt by Jefferson to get additional school cash from state sources when citizens rejected a bond issue last September to raise construction money locally? A lobbying effort is in order, as well as a plea to Gov. Bob Wise to get on board, because if this measure fails, then some sort of local funding, be it a tax increase or a bond issue, will be the only option left.

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